I like this illustration, showing how Asperger’s and Autism are essentially fusioned together. Photo courtesy of spectrumnews.org
Recently I was lying in my bed, randomly thinking about different things, when a particular thought popped into my head, a thought that had entered my head quite a few times…
What if, as a person on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum disorder (Asperger’s Syndrome to be precise), I were never put into the mainstream community at age six?
What if, as opposed to being put into a regular classroom from the first grade on, I stayed in special education?
How would my life had turned out?
What would my life be like today?
As detailed in my book, “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS” – which is coming out soon, it’s just a matter of finding the time to start the process on Lulu.com – I spent kindergarten in what was then called a “Special Day Class”, in the days when the concept of special ed was so new, it wouldn’t be made law until 1975, three years after my time in that SDC classroom.
My memories of that special day class were not fond ones, due to being whacked by rulers and put into closets for various infractions as part of a behavior modification program; details of such are featured in “WALKING ON EGGSHELLS”.
However, the harsh methods that were used apparently had a good effect, because at the end of that school year the powers that be determined that I had progressed to the point where they felt I would be able to be mainstreamed into a regular classroom for first grade, which is exactly what happened.
Though I continued to behave like an animal at times, my grades were such that I apparently wasn’t seriously considered to be returned to special ed, as I never saw the inside of a special education classroom again.
After 18 years (including college) of being in the educational mainstream and roughly two decades of being in the mainstream workforce, socially and otherwise, I have wondered what my life would be like today if I had stayed in a special education program until age 22, and never saw a regular classroom.
I like this image! Courtesy of bloomfieldpsychology.com.au
Here they are – keep in mind that these are strictly my opinions:
1. Though I would have been able to attend a two-year community college, as many people on the spectrum are, I wouldn’t have been able to go to, and get a degree from, UCLA.
2. I believe I would have had a limited social life, as my only peers would have been people on the spectrum, mostly guys as males outnumber females in that population by an average of five to one.
In other words, though I wouldn’t have been shunned and bullied the way I was, I think I would have been essentially, for lack of a better term, segregated and Jim-Crowed into a community strictly consisting of folks like me, plus teachers and supervisors and the like.
Which would have left me feeling extremely bored and restricted while wearing a permanent strait jacket, as I would have felt that in too many ways, the neurotypical world would have been closed to me.
3. I would have probably been in one of those adult programs, where they take groups of folks on the spectrum and with other developmental disabilities field trips to the library and various other places. I would see these groups, which includes people around my age (early 50s) and older from time to time at my local library reading magazines and surfing the internet on the computers and think one prevailing thought:
“For many if not all of those kids in special ed right now, that’s where they’ll end up.”
4. I believe I would have also probably, at best, been in some type of (so-called) menial labor job set up by my adults with disabilities program, doing janitor-type work in an office, picking up trash on the roadside, taking orders at a fast food restaurant or at a coffee-house or – as two developmentally disabled guys are doing right now at a Ralph’s across the street from my house, one of them for around twenty years – working at a supermarket pushing a broom down the aisles and collecting shopping baskets from the parking lot.
I hope no one thinks I’m denigrating that type of work or that I’m implying that such jobs are low-class crap and beneath me, because nothing can be further from the truth.
I’m sure that all those autistic folks pushing brooms, making mocha lattes, and cleaning up supermarket aisles are as happy as clams in mud. I know that there is dignity in all kinds of work.
But though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a janitor or a fast food worker, I would not be happy doing such.
And I’ve always felt that the best kind of jobs are those that make you happy.
By the way, I’m fully aware that many people on the spectrum are doing things like owning their own businesses and are embarking on many professional careers today.
Unfortunately, those options were not nearly as available in the 1970s through the bulk of the 1980s, the time when I was in school.
A comparison between an aspie brain and a non-aspie brain. Image courtesy of quora.com
OK, I’ve written a lot here; let me sum up…
It’s safe to say that my life would have been a lot different if I had not been mainstreamed into a regular classroom in the fall of 1973.
In some ways, my life has been better by being mainstreamed; I have been able to do things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.
But in other ways, I wouldn’t have been bullied, shunned and misunderstood nearly as much had I stayed in the special needs community.
I wouldn’t have had such a socially volatile experience in school, especially high school, and wouldn’t have had (seemingly) so many of my peers dislike me, reject me, misunderstand me, or a combination of such.
I wouldn’t have had such a checkered life in the workforce, my social issues that were caused by my being an aspie being partially responsible for being either fired or forced to quit 12 jobs in a 17-year span, with three years being the longest I have lasted in one place of employment.
And I might even have had a spouse, like that couple who’s about to get married in the A&E reality show Born This Way.
Please don’t misunderstand me – I’m okay with how my life has turned out, and am quite grateful for all my fortunes and blessings.
But there are times where I just can’t help wondering how things would have turned out for me if I wasn’t mainstreamed as a little boy with a wild afro.
And I’ll probably continue to wonder such.
That’s all I’m saying.
The symbol for the autism rights movement. Image courtesy of en.wikipedia.org